Eastleigh by-election: sorry, but Ukip aren’t going to win

Ukip's Nigel Farage
Ukip’s Nigel Farage

It’s as though Nate Silver never existed, it really is.

Michael Crick, the Channel 4 News political correspondent, tweeted a little while ago: “From talking to more voters today I increasingly think UKIP could pull of a surprise victory in Eastleigh. They will certainly do very well”.

No doubt they will do very well, for a party that was only founded a few years ago. But it is extremely unlikely that they’ll win, despite Nigel Farage’s claim that the party is “coming up on the rails” behind the Lib Dems and Tories.

There have five polls in the constituency since the by-election was called: two by Survation and three by Populus. The most recent one, by Populus, found the following results:

Mike Thornton (Lib Dem) 33pc
Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 28pc
Diane James (UKIP) 21pc

Let’s forget about the minor parties and joke candidates and just focus on those three.

As a nervous-sounding blog post on Lib Dem Voice put it, Mike Thornton’s five per cent lead is “within the margin of error”, and as such a statement might imply, two of the earlier polls indeed gave the lead to his Conservative rival Maria Hutchings.

The whole polling story looks like this:

Populus, 4-5 February, 1006 voters:
Lib Dems 31pc, Conservatives 34pc, Ukip 13pc
Survation, 6-8 February, 504 voters:
Lib Dems 36pc, Conservatives 33pc, Ukip 16pc
Survation, 18-22 February, 543 voters:
Lib Dems, 29pc, Conservatives 33pc, Ukip 21pc
Populus, 21-22 February, 1001 voters:
Lib Dems 33pc, Conservatives 28pc, Ukip 21pc
Populus, 22-24 February, 1002 voters:
Lib Dems 33pc, Conservatives 28pc, Ukip 21pc

There’s no denying that Ukip have improved considerably. But even if only one poll had been taken, we could be relatively confident that they had no realistic chance. The most recent poll, of 1,002 participants from a total electorate of 78,000, gives us 95 per cent confidence that the Ukip result will fall between 18.5 and 23.5 per cent of the vote. That might get them to within a couple of points of the Tories, if the Tories are very underrepresented and Ukip are very overrepresented. But they almost certainly won’t overtake them.

And that’s before we start looking at all of the polls together. I’m going to be very simplistic about this and simply add all the sample sizes together – there will have been a small overlap, but for my purposes small enough to ignore, and I’m assuming that both Survation and Populus are roughly equally trustworthy. That gives us a sample size of about 5,000, it gives Ukip an average of 18.4 per cent of the vote, and at that size the 95 per cent confidence interval is 1.1 per cent. Of course, the fact that all three of the latest polls put Ukip on 21 per cent suggests that there has been a genuine shift in the polls (and if I were any sort of real stats geek instead of the online-calculator-using impostor I am, I’d have weighted the results towards them in some way). But that’s no reason to think it will keep moving (remember the myth of Mitt-mentum?), especially since it’s been steady for a week, and all the Lord Rennard stuff has come out now.

The Lib Dems and the Tories average out on 32.4 per cent and 31.2 per cent respectively. That actually is too close to call with confidence, especially using the shoddy jerry-built approach to statistics I’ve been using here. But, and I’m sorry to be boring, that shoddy jerry-built approach is easily good enough to say that Ukip almost certainly aren’t going to win.

This isn’t an anti-Ukip thing, I promise (for that, go here). It’s just a reminder that while “taking the temperature” of a constituency by getting down on the ground and meeting real people and generally doing the old-school political thing is a good starting point, it isn’t as useful an indicator as actual polls.

Of course, if Ukip go on and win this now, I’ll look pretty bloody silly, but that’s the risk you take.

Read more by Tom Chivers on Telegraph Blogs
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